On The Corner: Tales from a Detroit Cab Driver

By Donald Kirkland

It was getting about that time to swing by the ballpark. The Kenny Chesney concert should be letting out. To a cab driver, an outdoor concert at the ballpark is good business. People take cabs so they can get drunk and not have to worry about getting a DUI. This was a country and western crowd and these people can drink. Fun and a good time is what they want and since they tend to come from faraway places, they need cabs to get back home.

This is when we become predators and the concertgoers are the meal. You cannot get a cab at this time anywhere unless you are walking out of that concert door. As I was driving northbound on Woodward Ave, I see this well dressed black man standing at the bus stop trying to flag me down. I stopped and picked him up. I took the chance that he may not be going far, I was right!

We went past the stadium where 40,000 drunken people were staggering out. People were hooping and a hollering giving fake gang signs, cigarettes dangling from their mouths. As I moved with caution through the crowd of people, suddenly, what I call Ches-(ney) nuts surround my cab moving closer, closer, yelling, and screaming. When close enough they started pressing their faces against the windows of my cab.

My fare started asking me what in the hell was going on. I laughed and said that they were zombies, and that concertgoers like messing with cabs. He said that he had just the thing to deal with zombies. He reached down and opened his bag and out popped a Ray- Gun. A three-foot long bazooka that spat out sparklers and lights that were going up and down the barrel, and made sounds that a pinball machine makes.

He took aim, pulled the trigger and started zapping the zombies one by one. With their mugs still pressed against the windows they suddenly seem to disappear back into the crowd. After all was clear he put his zapper away. I thanked him and said that I had never met a superhero before. He accepted my compliments with a big grin and we went on our way, nothing more was said for the duration of the ride.

Humor to a cab driver comes in many different flavors. We see and experience things from a car seat. When someone asks us to tell them a story we have to ask, “What kind of story do you want to hear?” For a cab driver a quirky story is the funny story. Like the time the ole-timer, as we call him, was telling me about when he was going from one freeway to the other, he noticed the steering wheel had popped off the steering column and that he could no longer steer the car.

The fare in the back seat yelled to him “I think there is something wrong with the cab, the way it’s veering from left to right.” The ole-timer held up the steering wheel and said, “Yeah, the steering wheel came off.” He was able to get the steering wheel back on and they were on their way. Nothing more was said. This story is especially funny to cab drivers, since we all have things happen to us while driving. Tires fall off or goes flat, doors falls off, trunk and hood open up at seventy miles an hour, but not a steering wheel popping off.

These stories fill in the gaps between the mundane and all the things we deal with on a daily basis—such as homelessness, drugs, prostitution, being harassed by cops and of course the chance of being mugged or killed. We see the daily struggles of what people, many of whom are poor, have to do just to survive. Without that sense of quirky humor, one couldn’t do this job.

It takes patience, understanding and compassion to deal with the public, but you have to be a little warped to be a cab driver.

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